In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I scoured the internet looking for declarations of thankfulness. Of course I came across the standard Facebook and Twitter postings, which, I was delighted to see. Unfortunately, the number of these posts has decreased greatly. I completely understand that one may find tweeting something everyday to be excessive. However, some people who posted really lovely comments on Thanksgiving Eve have now replaced these thoughts with complaints about the weather, the Kardashians, their co-workers and even something as small has having to make dinner! All of this aside, one of the most amazing posts I came across on Thanksgiving Eve was a video created by 31 Bits (posted below, please check it out!)
I couldn’t help but click this video and, after watching a number of Ugandan women describe what they were thankful for, I was intrigued to find out more about this company. At a very basic level, 31 Bits designs and sells jewelry – but the company’s mandate, development and impact runs much deeper than this.
31 Bits was formed after Co-Founder Kallie Dovel, spent a Summer in Uganda. She returned to the United States with several pieces of paper-beaded jewelry created by local Ugandan woman. Kallie’s friends in the States were instantly drawn to the pieces. Having recognized that the women designing this jewelry had no immediate access to a buyers, Kallie saw this as a great opportunity to seize her friend’s and family’s demand for this jewelry in a positive way. She and a group of friends developed a business that would introduce Ugandan jewelry makers to a market, and provide them with educational tools to keep this market sustainable.
At 31 Bits’ 2008 start, they chose 6 Ugandan women as designers. Now, they have over 100, each of whom now make a living how they otherwise would not have been able. All profits generated by 31 Bits goes back into development and a portion is used to provide financial, vocational and English training for each of the program’s participants.
Their jewelry is available at a number of stores across the country. And, it’s nice to know that purchasing from them promotes something that goes beyond pure consumerism!
Thankfully, I was able to ask 31 Bits Team Member Alli Swanson a few questions:
I know that 31 Bits began as a small start-up. How have your goals evolved after 3 full years of operation?
Our tag line here at 31 Bits is “Using Fashion and Design to Empower Women to Rise Above Poverty”, and while that is a broad statement, it is also a broad goal. As we’ve expanded both in Uganda and in the US, our goals continue to expand. Ultimately, we want the ladies in Uganda to thrive. We also want our product to continue to improve and evolve. We are a socially minded business, and we believe business is one of the most powerful and sustainable approaches to alleviate poverty. Our business approach/goal is centered on two main components: the consumer and the creator. We believe in providing a product that identifies with our market, consisting of high quality materials, detailed construction, and fashion-forward design. Our jewelry is constantly being refined and transformed with current trends, giving costumers the opportunity to continue supporting our women in Uganda.
How do you select new designers?
As far as selecting new designers, it varies. A lot of times our current designers will tell us about women they know in their village, extended family members, and friends that are in need of an income. Sometimes women will come to our compound looking for work… whatever the case, we spend time interviewing them, visiting their village, and assessing their need.
Some of your designers have used their profit, and 31 Bits financial education to create their own businesses. What are some of these?
Here’s a link to one of our designers, Hellen’s, story of her most recent business opportunity: http://31bits.com/2011/10/hellens-business-opportunity/
Has 31 Bits thought of expanding to other areas where groups may not know how to maximize their assets and talents to generate sustainable income?
We have! Not only do we hope to expand our programs in Uganda, but apply similar development programs in other parts of the world. We have some exciting ideas/opportunities for this coming year… stay tuned!
For those who want to get involved, the company welcomes Volunteers and even has a program for College Reps. Additionally, they’re holding holiday parties to celebrate their designers. If you’re interested in contributing, purchasing jewelry, or finding out more information…
You can check out their website at: 31 Bits
Follow them on Twitter: 31 Bits Twitter
Thank you Alli and 31 Bits!
Enjoy the Video!